Contemplations in Tokyo

Each Martin Luther King Jr. holiday (this past January 18 in the USA), my thoughts tend to stir and I reflect on one or several aspects of his wisdom. It fuels and inspires me at the beginning of each New Year. I also listen to a few of his speeches, one of which I wrote about several years ago.

In 2016, after almost 5 months of living in Tokyo, his "content of character' has been on my mind.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
(Martin Luther King Jr.)

I’ve been refreshed by the positive way I've been treated in Tokyo. Thus far, people see me for who I am and judge me on my character, which has not always been the case in other countries. I know I’m still in that honeymoon stage with Japan, yet the feeling I get is comforting.

Whether it’s been expats from all over the world, American's who have lived in Japan a long time or local Japanese friends, my heart has been warmed by their kindness, energy, help and enthusiasm in this colossal city. My two months living in Belgrade, Serbia in 2005 were very similar to the Tokyo atmosphere now, although in Serbia I spent the majority of my time with locals.

I realize that the International and expat crowd (especially in Tokyo) tend to be more open-minded and worldly, but I didn't expect such a powerful dose of genuine interest in getting to know one another. It's been a thrill networking with and learning about so many diverse and interesting people.

Despite what's been a wonderful expat journey of living in my 3rd country, there have been too many times (primarily in the USA and Sweden) when I've been looked at for 'what I am not', treated as a stereotype or the most if I were invisible. It wasn’t always about my color; sometimes I was treated unfairly or unkindly simply because I was different from the norm.

In those instances, the 'content of my character' didn't mean a thing. I've written sparingly about it (two stories are below), but the sting of those moments is not easily forgotten, especially by several people who grew up in a loving household and I expected so much more from.

On the flip side, my race and culture (linked with sports prominence) has also provided significant personal and professional benefits throughout my life, which has undoubtedly helped to lessen the pain of those troubling experiences.

When I hear from friends or members of my inner circle about their racial issues or not being given the chance to fit in, it reinforces how much easier I had it with racism and being accepted.

My background (high school sports star, collegiate basketball player and working in sports) was a blessing in many ways as the problems I experienced in sports were rare compared to the world outside of sports. I’ve always loved that about team sports (along with sports in general), in that it matters most what one does on the field or court. If one can play ball, skin color or uniqueness usually takes a back seat.

I'm grateful for Tokyo and the generosity of spirit and friendship I've encountered. It's a magnificent thing to be experiencing, particularly with all the chaos going on in our global world – including the disturbing climate (see articles below) among a small yet significant portion of Sweden.

I've not given up on some of the arrogant, selfish or uncompassionate souls who have never seen me and many others for the content of our characters. These people (who need our compassion more than most) have thankfully been a small part of my USA and Swedish experience, as most I’ve crossed paths were genuine and good people.

I may still be in the company of some of the aforementioned lost souls in the future, yet they will always be treated with kindness and positivity. Maybe one day they will begin to see the light. My actions may never be reciprocated by them, but one thing is certain - I will never let them darken my day or turn me into something I'm not.

And as we (USA) choose our next President in the not to distant future, it’s vitally  important to keep in mind another one of Dr. King’s quotes:

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
(Martin Luther King Jr.)

Here’s hoping more of us continue or begin to show sincere interest in those we come in contact with in the New Year, especially those who aren’t like us or have a different culture. It’s one way we can all help our communities, nations and world become a happier and more unified place.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

The Countries of the Student Body at the International School my Children Attend
(50 Nationalities / 330 Students)